Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. Unlike most of us, Jesus was not baptized as a baby. John the Baptist baptized Jesus before he began his ministry. We are going to focus on the actual baptismal event itself and its implications for Jesus, us and our world.
The issue we all wonder about is, “Why would it be God’s will for the Messiah to be baptized?” The most likely reason is to demonstrate Jesus’ solidarity with sinners. Though sinless, Jesus joined the sinful multitude in the waters of the Jordan. This is Jesus’ first step on the road to Calvary (Douglas Hare, Interpretation: Matthew).
Jesus also says he is being baptized, “to fulfill all righteousness.” Here, righteousness seems to mean a divine requirement to be accomplished. “Righteousness” and “fulfillment” are key themes in Matthew. It is a messianic accomplishment.
As I mentioned in the e-ministry, there is a two-fold purpose to Jesus’ baptism in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus is assured and empowered for ministry. Secondly, he is revealed to those in attendance. However, this experience of Jesus’ baptism reverberated throughout the area: to “the people of Jerusalem and all Judea…and all the region along the Jordan” (3.5). They all heard God’s testimony of the identity of Jesus.
Although it may not be the weather for it, think about warmer, sunny days of cooking over the grill. The kind of cooking fork used has two tines, like the two-fold purpose of Jesus’ baptism. So…let’s get cookin’!
Tine one involves revelation, encouragement and empowerment. This was all directed at Jesus. The heavens being opened, typically in the Old Testament, happens before some revelation of God. This is something Matthew’s readers would quickly recognize. Jesus’ baptism was nothing ordinary.
Considering the life and death Jesus would experience, he certainly needed this divine revelation and reassurance. I suspect Jesus got a glimpse of what his earthly ministry would consist of—healing, preaching—excellent. But then there’s persecution and crucifixion. If you remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked his Father to deliver him from the cup of death. He wasn’t looking forward to that—revelation or not.
Next, Jesus sees the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending and landing on him. We see the dove as a sign of peace, and it is. But the Holy Spirit is also God’s empowerment for service. All of this was directed to and seen by Jesus, not the crowd and not John. Most of what happened on the day of Jesus' baptism was preparation for his ministry.
But God did not forget the crowd. Tine two is all about those who were watching what was going on. It’s time for the Voice, which was directed to everyone from the observers to us. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (v. 17). This does not refer to the nature of the second person of the trinity but to the messianic task, echoing as it does the Nathan prophecy of 2 Samuel, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son” (7:14). The Voice makes it clear that Jesus is more than a disciple of John the Baptist. What the angel declared to Joseph, what the magi understood the star to mean, what the prophetic texts confirm, and what John himself proclaimed is now summed up once for all in God’s own voice.
God claims us and makes us his own in holy baptism, sealing us with the Holy Spirit and marking us with the cross of Christ forever (Evangelical Lutheran Worship). God reveals our mission through baptism:
to live among God’s faithful people,
to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Affirmation of Baptism).
There is plenty we can do in fulfillment of these promises we made. We have many homeless people in Jamestown. The faith community and other partners are working to find a solution to this issue. We have hungry children in our own community. Our participation in the Five Loaves and Two Fish Ministry helps to address this need. What about the war between Russia and Ukraine? We give through Lutheran World Relief and other organizations to help those in such great need. Here we have devastating fires, floods, tornados, hurricanes—weather of all kinds. Lutheran World Relief works domestically to aid those affected and to help them rebuild their lives.
In Lutheran circles, we often hear the phrase, “Remember your baptism.” Most of us were too young to remember the act itself, so what does that mean? To remember your baptism is to remember who you are. Baptism is, above all, about identity. “[You] are [God’s] beloved, with whom [God is] well pleased.” Beloved of God, remember who you are and whose you are!
M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary
Eric Fistler and Robb McCoy, pulpitfiction.com
Douglas R. A. Hare, Interpretation: Matthew
The Jewish Annotated New Testament